April 16, 2015
When I ran for Congress, I pledged to work my hardest on behalf of New York’s 21st District in Washington. Now that I am one hundred days into office, I am happy to report that we have hit the ground running on your behalf.
In fact, I am proud to have helped the House of Representatives pass dozens of pieces of legislation that would help North Country families and businesses. For instance, with my support, the House has passed the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act – both of which are bipartisan bills to reduce burdensome federal regulations to help our small businesses grow and get people back to work.
We have passed legislation aimed at improving “529” college savings plans so that families can better save for higher education and reduce the debt that too often comes with a college degree. And I was proud to support the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act -- important legislation that President Obama has signed into law that will help provide resources to help combat the tragedy of our nation’s veterans committing suicide while waiting for the care they need.
Most recently I was proud to join Congressman Chris Gibson as an original cosponsor of the Family Farm Relief Act of 2015 – legislation that would help North Country farmers by making reforms to our H-2A visa program. This legislation would make it significantly easier for farmers to find, hire, and keep H-2A workers.
When I ran for Congress I pledged to reach across the aisle and work on bipartisan solutions for our district. Last month I was proud to lead the entire New York Congressional Delegation’s effort to defend Fort Drum against the devastating sequester cuts that threaten this installation, and in turn, threaten our local economy, our state and the security of our nation.
Recently I led a bipartisan effort on behalf of 43 Freshmen lawmakers to urge Speaker John Boehner to fast track consideration of H.R. 160, the Protect Medical Innovation Act. This bipartisan legislation would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s onerous medical device tax that is limiting access to the healthcare devices that North Country families need and undermining the medical device industry that is so important to our local economy. This is an extremely important issue for our district, especially in Warren County, home of what is called "catheter valley" because of the numerous catheter manufacturers.
Importantly, my office has remained committed to providing transparency to our constituents on everything I am working on for you in Congress. I post the rationale for all of my legislative votes on my official Facebook page, and on my website constituents can find all of the legislation that I am working on.
In addition, my official schedule is made public online and we have launched a weekly e-newsletter – a platform for me to explain exactly what I have been working on for you and deliver it directly to your email inbox. I encourage everyone to follow me on my social media accounts and subscribe to my weekly updates at my official website.
I remain honored to serve New York’s 21st district and promise that the first hundred days is just the beginning.
Our offices have opened up in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Watertown and Washington, and my staff is committed to helping North Country families and businesses with any matter concerning the federal government. I encourage constituents to visit my online office at Stefanik.house.gov, and I look forward to continuing to work hard on your behalf.
April 9, 2015
Plattsburgh Press Republican
SARANAC LAKE — A tour of the St. Joseph’s Veterans Program gave Congresswoman Elise Stefanik a chance to meet with veterans recovering from PTSD and addiction.
She toured the Col. C. David Merkel residence halls here Wednesday and discussed successes and challenges with staff and residents.
One of the veterans in residence told Stefanik how welcoming this treatment center is compared with other programs he experienced through the Veterans Administration.
St. Joe’s, he said, is more in-depth, more familial and more relaxing. And being in a house with other warriors working through similar issues with addiction and post traumatic stress disorder has proved healing in itself.
Another veteran who recently completed treatment at St. Joe's said it was important to be treated like a person, not like a patient or a dollar sign.
St. Joe’s program for vets was established last year through the neighboring Rehabilitation and Treatment facility with support from New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
It is not a product of the federal VA program but does work through outreach from the VA.
CHANGES TOO SLOW
Stefanik (R-Willsboro) spoke at length about changes ongoing at the Veterans Administration, which was subject to federal audit and overhaul this past year.
Change is happening, she said, through the Choice and Accountability Act, a measure designed to increase care options for veterans, adding more timely treatment closer to home.
“But it’s not happening quickly enough,” Stefanik said.
Changes put in place so far aren’t working, she said, and the quality of care available is “not up to par."
The sheer logistics of rewiring an archaic system seems to be more of a stumbling block than proviso.
ACCESS TO CARE
In the North Country, a critical problem exists with travel time and distance.
“The difficulty they (veterans) have to go through to access care is challenging,” she said, especially from the North Country, where the closest VA center is two or more hours away in Albany.
“They are driving by local hospitals on the way to the VA (center),” Stefanik said.
Her solution would come as new legislation allowing “common sense” access to local hospitals for veterans medical care.
At St. Joe’s, Chief Financial Officer Russell Cronin underscored the problem.
“Our clients have to go all the way to Albany,” he said.
But St. Joe’s is working with Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, looking to add the hospital to the VA provider's list.
Federal regulations determine mileage between providers, Cronin explained.
With a Veterans Clinic is Saranac Lake that offers some outpatient services, Cronin said, there has not been room for another “provider” under the current rules.
Along with institutional changes to the VA, funding for military training has been threatened by sequestration policy that Congress put in place in 2011.
Sequestration requires arbitrary and automatic spending cuts throughout the federal budget.
The plan has threatened closure or cuts at nearby Fort Drum, along with all major military bases in the United States.
Asked if and when Congress will redress sequestration measures, Stefanik said she has been active in the Defending Defense Coalition, a think-tank looking to end arbitrary budget cuts.
“I’m confident that this year we can get rid of sequestration,” she said.
The congresswoman, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said she didn’t vote with her party on the first House budget allocation for military spending. She did vote for the second House plan that matched funding levels requested by President Barack Obama.
Across-the-board cuts by sequestration affect the ability of the U.S. military to properly train personnel, she said.
“That translates into lives and limbs on the battlefield,” Stefanik said.
The tour and discussion at St. Joe's was Stefanik’s second stop Wednesday, though both revolved around concerns of North Country veterans. The first was a roundtable discussion in Tupper Lake.
At St. Joe’s, Program Director Zachary Randolph described success they’ve achieved working with three phases of treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction.
Even when the warriors have completed their program at St. Joe's, Randolph said, “they still have resources here which really allow them to reintegrate.”
St. Joe’s inpatient program for veterans opened last July. So far, 18 clients have been in residence, with six having completed the program.
March 28, 2015
Watertown Daily Times
Rep. Elise Stefanik has spent much of this month advocating to save Fort Drum from sequestration cuts. She also announced her support for a proposed New York Winter Olympic bid and skied during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Winter Challenge.
Fort Drum could lose up to 16,000 military and civilian jobs if sequestration –– automatic congressional budget cuts –– remains in effect. The Republican from Willsboro said the loss of those jobs would have a severe effect on the New York economy and the military’s ability to protect the U.S.
“This has been a really important month for Fort Drum,” Stefanik said.
Once taking office, Stefanik quickly made Fort Drum a priority. She asked the entire New York congressional delegation to sign a letter outlining the importance of the north country’s military base, and they all signed on.
Stefanik said she discussed the statewide economic impact and the importance the post has for training the National Guard, when lobbying her colleagues.
“It’s very hard in Congress to get agreement on issues,” she said.
The letter was then delivered to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who will visit Fort Drum on Monday.
“I’m looking forward to welcoming Secretary Carter on Monday when he visits,” Stefanik said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Fort Drum.”
Foreign policy was a major topic of discussion at the beginning of March, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a joint session of Congress –– something the congresswoman called a historic occasion.
Stefanik said Netanyahu’s speech was important for the world to hear, and she shares his concerns about Iran possibly getting a nuclear weapon.
“I think it’s important when we consider U.S. foreign policy,” she said of the speech. “The United States and Israel have a special relationship.”
She was disappointed that President Barrack Obama’s administration did not meet with the prime minister while in Washington.
Stefanik mingled with state leaders on March 9 when she attended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Adirondack Winter Challenge, an event meant to promote tourism throughout the Adirondacks. She was there with many other state officials and legislators, including many from downstate and local ones like state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury.
Stefanik, an avid skier, said she grew up going to Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers. She went to Whiteface this month with her father, Ken Stefanik.
Cuomo hands out lighthearted, and often tongue-and-cheek awards during each challenge, and this year Stefanik won the best alpine skier award, which made her father proud.
“I was really excited to be invited,” she said. “Sen. Little and I both sat at a table with Gov. Cuomo, and north country tourism is an issue we can agree on.”
Stefanik said the governor has done a good job raising awareness of north country tourism.
This month Stefanik also came out in support of a regional Winter Olympic bid proposal for New York. The bid proposal, in its early stages, centers around the two-time Olympic host Lake Placid and surrounding upstate cities.
The effort is being led by Essex County and local Lake Placid leaders, who are aiming for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The group, including Essex County Supervisor Randy Douglas, lobbied Stefanik this month, meeting in her Washington office to discuss the idea.
Stefanik said she will work to make sure it’s a serious bid.
“I think support will continue to grow,” she said. “I think it’s a unique way to market New York as a whole.”
“I’m open to it,” Cuomo said at the Adirondack Winter Challenge. “It’s a lot of work, but it would be a great opportunity.”
Stefanik also weighed in on a more controversial issue this month –– the resignation of Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois. He resigned following news reports questioning mileage reimbursements and gifts he received.
Stefanik said Schock, who became the center of a debate about internal ethics rules for lawmakers in Washington, did the right thing resigning. Congress should maintain the “highest degree of ethics,” she said.
The congresswoman decided at the beginning of this session –– before the news broke about Schock –– not to collect mileage reimbursements.
“I view it (driving) as part of the job,” she said.
Watertown Daily Times
WATERTOWN — The public outpouring of support for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division during Friday’s listening session at Jefferson Community College was so great that even the post’s commander — a man who told himself he would remain impartial — was affected.
“After sitting here listening to all of you for three hours, you’ve made me so proud, I can’t be impartial, I just can’t,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. “So Maj. Gen. Steve Townsend, but also citizen Steve Townsend, believes that Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum is not only good for the north country and New York, as you all have said so well, but it is good for our Army and America.”
Gen. Townsend’s comments brought the second standing ovation of the evening. The first came when Mary M. Corriveau, chairwoman of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, revealed that a petition to protest cuts at the post had received more than 22,000 signatures.
The Army is looking to cut up to 16,000 personnel at Fort Drum, the largest single-site employer in New York, and in a worst-case scenario, such a large cut would result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population. The cuts come as a result of sequestration.
Friday’s listening session, one of the final stops on a 30-installation tour for Army officials, brought out politicians from all levels of government, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury. Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, members of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, and town and village supervisors. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie delivered video statements during the listening session. Deanna Nelson, assistant attorney in charge of the attorney general’s Watertown office, read a statement from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
First to speak was Lt. Gov. Hochul, who said the state has made a strong commitment to Fort Drum.
“We have stepped up as a community, we have stepped up as a state and met every single challenge that’s been presented to us to make sure that this relationship works out so well,” she said. “Making sure there’s plenty of housing in the community to support the people off base — 48 percent of the families and military live in our own communities, 40 percent of the kids in our local school districts are from Fort Drum. We are one community, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m not going to let anything happen to that.”
During her comments at the beginning of the listening session, Ms. Stefanik, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the post was uniquely positioned to meet the challenges of a dynamic security environment.
“I urge you to listen to the calls of thousands of north country citizens who are asking you to protect Fort Drum,” said Ms. Stefanik, who secured the support of the entire New York state congressional delegation in a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. “There is no better place in the nation to train our great soldiers to ‘Climb to Glory.’”
The support from the politicians was met with cheers, but some of the most affecting testimony came from the people in the audience, who drove home a theme that the north country and the post are one family, one community, with comment after comment.
“We are family sirs, you don’t mess with us,” said Dianne D. Chase, a local radio personality.
Audience members told stories of the care they received at local hospitals, former service members spoke of the safe and secure feeling they had when they deployed and left their families behind in the community and a woman told a story about how a soldier literally saved her life nearly 14 years ago when she was involved in a car accident outside a fast-food restaurant where he was eating with his friends.
At least three audience members spoke of the diversity that the post brings to the area and Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, said the area should serve as a model to other communities around the country.
“I believe that we can be a model for this nation,” the Rev. Smith said. “We are different cultures, we can live together in peace and harmony, we all can get along, one nation under God, consider that also.”
In addition to the close-knit communities and personal stories shared by members of the audience, the post has a significant economic impact on the area as several businessmen and women noted during their comments.
Direct spending from the post, primarily soldiers’ paychecks, accounts for about $1.3 billion locally, with local advocates saying the post also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in additional indirect economic activity.
A man from Detroit spoke of the economic devastation that resulted when the auto industry began to falter in his hometown.
“I’ve seen what happens to a community when the primary employer no longer does what they’ve been doing. ... It seems to me that the last thing you want to see is a mirror of what happened in Detroit.”
John P. McLaurin III, the Army’s deputy director for force management and top Pentagon official at the hearing, said he was impressed by the show of support for the post.
“It was overwhelming, the show of support.” Mr. McLaurin said. “Our soldiers live by a set of values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Well, what I heard and saw here tonight was a reflection of those values from the community. For me, that was very special. It just emphasized the fact that Fort Drum and the soldiers and families there and all the communities surrounding the installation are really one family.”
Throughout the evening, between the jam-packed rally in the JCC gymnasium and the passionate comments during the listening session in the JCC auditorium, it was clear that many residents of the north country view the fates of their communities and of Fort Drum as being intertwined. The ultimate decisions affecting both, which will be made by politicians and government officials in Washington, D.C., remain unknown.
Watertown Daily Times
CLAYTON — Representatives from four upstate congressional districts showed their support for Fort Drum on Thursday during a reception at the Antique Boat Museum — a feat Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, called “historic.”
“One of the things that I’ve learned after being in Congress for slightly over two months is that it’s hard to get four members of Congress in one place, especially if it’s outside three of their districts, so this is a huge sign of historic support for Fort Drum’s presence in upstate New York,” Ms. Stefanik said during her remarks to community leaders in the museum’s Elizabeth and Bolling Haxall Building.
The event preceded today’s rally and listening session during which Army officials will see and hear from an anticipated 3,000 attendees at Jefferson Community College, Watertown.
Reps. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Richard Hanna, R-Syracuse, attended the event along with Ms. Stefanik. The three congressmen will not attend the listening session, though they have issued statements that Ms. Stefanik will read during the event. They also signed a letter, along with the other members of New York’s congressional delegation, that was sent to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Thursday.
The signs of support were encouraging, according to public officials who attended the event, but the post does face challenges as the Army looks to slash troop levels across the country, due in large part to sequestration cuts in the federal budget.
Ms. Stefanik and her Republican colleagues responded to a question about balancing the GOP’s competing priorities of balancing the budget and promoting a strong national defense by replacing the sequester.
“All of us are united that sequestration is devastating our nation’s military,” Ms. Stefanik said. “We are working as a coalition of upstate New York members to make sure we replace the sequester. I believe that we are the party of a strong national defense. I believe it is a priority in our nation to make sure that our Defense Department is funded to our 21st century national security challenges.”
Secretary Carter, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in February, said during a House Armed Services Committee meeting Wednesday that he would support a presidential veto of any congressional budget plan that leaves sequestration in place, even if the Department of Defense gets the funding it wants in this year’s budget.
“We need the end of sequestration across the board,” Mr. Carter said, according to the Army Times. “What we need for defense ... is stability.”
Mr. Carter’s statements were met with criticism from House Republicans, many of whom have pushed to boost the military budget while leaving other spending caps in place, the Army Times said.
It was not immediately apparent whether the policy of which Ms. Stefanik spoke would address Mr. Carter’s concerns.
Mr. Gibson, who was stationed at Fort Drum during his 24-year career in the Army, addressed questions about responding to terrorist threats such as the Islamic State even as public support for prolonged ground conflicts overseas has diminished over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The question is, what’s the smart way to address this?” Mr. Gibson said. “I would tell you that we always reserve the right to act, immediately and unilaterally, if we ascertain intelligence that there’s an attack that’s imminent for our country. But at the moment, the intelligence community says that they (ISIS) do not have that capability.”
Mr. Gibson said that restricting the ability of ISIS to recruit and raise funds, as well as providing material support and training support to Iraqi and Kurdish fighters and their allies in the region, is a way to contain the growth of the militant group.
Mr. Katko, a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, said Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, if staffed and supported adequately, could play a crucial role in responding to the ever-changing security situation.
“Fort Drum is the antidote for crisis,” Mr. Katko said. “They are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Also attending Thursday’s event were state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, as well as Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River. Sens. Ritchie and Little, along with more than 30 other members of the state Senate, signed a letter to the New York congressional delegation supporting Fort Drum. U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer both prepared video statements to be delivered at the listening session.
March 20, 2015
Watertown Daily Times
Canadian and U.S. officials are working to pass legislation in both countries to offer a preclearance process and reduce wait times for travelers at border-crossing areas.
Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently signed an agreement that would allow security agents from each nation to establish checkpoints on the other’s soil. They would conduct immigration, customs and agricultural inspections for people planning to cross the border by air, boat, land and rail. Preclearance of these individuals could reduce the time for others to cross the border.
Any measure that would uphold the security of each nation while making border crossing a faster process is worthwhile. The plan would need to be approved by both the Canadian Parliament and U.S. Congress.
“This landmark agreement is welcome news for our north country community,” U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said in a statement supporting the proposal. “In addition to helping increase efficiency along our northern border, this agreement will help increase trade with our Canadian neighbors. This is good for our north country economy and for hard-working north country families.”
“Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement that the agreement announced Monday is welcome news for the organization that has pushed for the preclearance of New York-bound Amtrak passengers from Montreal, who frequently encounter long waits at the Champlain border crossing,” according to a story Tuesday in the Watertown Daily Times. “In addition to preclearance for Amtrak passengers, Mr. Douglas said in his statement that the agreement will allow officers from both sides of the border to ‘co-staff’ and operate small, rural crossings, jointly clearing traffic in both directions. This would save resources for both countries while securing the future of the many small crossings in the north country which, while being low-volume crossings, ‘represent important connections between rural communities,’ Mr. Douglas said. He said the pact also creates the possibility of the Canada Border Services Agency locating operations at the crossing between Massena and Cornwall, Ontario, ‘enhancing flow at this important north country gateway.’”
It’s in everyone’s interest to conduct inspections at the border that effectively maintain our security. At the same time, streamlining the process is vital to ensuring that travel between the two nations for commerce and tourism is less of a problem.
This agreement is a positive step toward that goal. It’s good that Ms. Stefanik supports this plan, and residents should encourage her along with U.S. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer to pursue its passage.
March 11, 2015
Watertown Daily Times
FORT DRUM — A little more than a week before a scheduled hearing about potentially massive cuts at Fort Drum, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik said she looked forward to showing “the best of this community.”
“We’re intertwined with our schools, with our hospitals, the ... ReEnergy biomass decision that was made. That’s a long-term commitment,” she said Tuesday. “I view it as an opportunity, and that’s how I’m working with other members of Congress.”
Ms. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, toured facilities on post with Reps. John Katko, R-Syracuse, and Richard Hanna, R-Utica, and met 10th Mountain Division leaders, including commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend and Garrison Commander Col. Gary A. Rosenberg. Prior to arriving at the post, the lawmakers visited the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field near Syracuse.
The three representatives have committed to attending the Army’s hearing about Fort Drum, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 20 at Jefferson Community College. The hearing is preceded by a rally that will begin at 5 p.m. at the college’s gymnasium. They also said Rep. Christopher P. Gibson, R-Kinderhook, will attend the hearing.
Their visit comes at a time when lawmakers are evaluating whether to continue sequestration budget caps that military officials and advocates say are heavily damaging military readiness.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that top Republicans are digging in and are expected to roll out House and Senate budgets next week that will keep military and domestic spending at levels agreed to in the 2011 deficit-reduction deal.
“There is need for more defense spending, but we do not break the sequester,” Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a member of the House Budget Committee, told The Wall Street Journal.
In contrast, a report from The Hill newspaper said a group of Republicans and Democrats are looking to override sequestration through a combination of tax hikes and entitlement cuts.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told The Hill the plan would allow the government to spend more than what’s allowed under the 2011 cuts.
“What we need to do is buy back sequestration,” he told The Hill. “What we’re trying to do is put together a mini Simpson-Bowles deal.”
Ms. Stefanik said she would support eliminating the sequester caps.
“It’s bad policy,” she said. “It’s hurting our readiness, it’s hurting our training for our troops, which ultimately, we’re asking them to make significant sacrifices.”
Mr. Katko said he hoped the military would keep Fort Drum’s numbers due to its unique ability to deploy and perform a versatile range of missions.
“That’s a huge asset for the military,” he said.
Mr. Hanna said federal lawmakers were “hand in glove together” in keeping Fort Drum personnel numbers, highlighting the military’s ties to the surrounding community. He said he was impressed by “how it’s integrated itself into this very large community, and how critical it is for it to stay in this to community, and flourish in this community, and how well this community has welcomed this base for so many years.”
The Army is considering cutting 16,000 soldiers and civilian personnel from the post, and performing similarly large cuts at 29 other installations across the country. If Fort Drum were to lose the full number, it could result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population.
In questions after her prepared remarks, Ms. Stefanik said she strongly opposed a new round of Base Realignment and Closure, despite repeated calls from top Department of Defense and Army officials. She also voiced support for the development of a missile defense site at Fort Drum, as the military reviews the necessity of such a site on the East Coast. Top officials from the Missile Defense Agency, including director Vice Adm. James D. Syring, have said the site is not needed, and cheaper alternatives for protecting the region exist.
Video from Tuesday’s Fort Drum appearance can be found at https://wdt.me/stefanik-drum.